Oh, Didn’t See You There…

I have a question for you all.

If Joe has no senses (couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t touch, couldn’t taste, couldn’t smell), and he was locked in a room with Mary, who also had no senses, would you expect the two of them to fall in love?

It’s so obvious that I’ll answer for you (as if I wouldn’t have anyway).  The answer is no, they wouldn’t.  The primary reason is because they don’t know the other exists.

Now let’s take a step back.  You have two characters, a boy and a girl.  The boy never really notices the girl and the girl never really notices the boy.  But by the end of the book, they’re holding hands– they’re “in love”.

How did this happen?

You never had an indication of what the boy thought of the girl, and you never had an indication of what the girl thought of the boy.  So how would they all of a sudden like each other?

The first step when you’re showing an attachment between two characters is having each one notice the other.  Consider this paragraph.  (Beware YA heist/evil genius stereotyping.)

Kurt the Evil Genius looked approvingly over his team.  There was a huge giant of a man: their hired muscle, Lutfi the Gentle.  There was a stooped old man whose beard could rival dead grass for crunchy sounds as it moved: the wise mentor, Gandarf the Exceptionally Stupid.  There was the scrawny adolescent kid, perhaps fourteen, a year younger than Kurt himself: their IT guy and hacker, Mafunzalo the Wonky-of-Finger.  There was the gymnast, MacGuffin the Arthritic.  And there was the other girl.

Now, of course, this being the stereotypical heist setup, we all know that this unnamed girl is going to be the love interest and the reason Kurt will go through any character development at all.  But imagine if, all through the book, she is never described any more than her hair or eye color.  How would we know if Kurt thinks she’s pretty if he never seems to notice her?  Of course, he could be mooning over her off-camera– but the point of books is that there is no off-camera unless there’s a plot that the reader or main character mustn’t know of!

And it all comes down to this: if you’re going to make two people fall in love, the first thing you’ve got to do is describe people right.  You can’t just say a boy/girl has “brown eyes, brown hair, brown teeth”– you’ve got to do better by saying less.  Whether we’re describing the potential love interest or just a dead girl on the street, when Kurt sees her face the description of “pretty” must pop into his head.  If not pretty, then ugly, or even “not unhandsome”, like classics do all the time.  But the one thing we must not do is omit the general description.

Instead of that final sentence in the above paragraph, consider this:

And then there was a pretty girl Kurt didn’t know.

Of course, this will continue into a question to whichever member of the team brought her along on this expedition, and who exactly she is.  But the point remains that he immediately describes her as “pretty”.  This means that he noticed her instead of dismissing her as rubbish at first glance.

The seemingly insignificant touch of adding the word pretty or… not so pretty makes all the difference.  Immediately the reader understands the potential of an attraction between the two characters.  It’s the difference between this…

…which shows apathy from one side, and this…

Perfect examples.  Whereas in the first paragraph Kurt was like Shroeder, completely apathetic toward girls in general– he probably held with the girls-are-aliens theory– in the second ending to the paragraph was saw someone like Charlie Brown, who once said that “pretty faces make [him] nervous”.  Here we see that Charlie Brown recognizes that a pretty face is pretty.  If he didn’t, we wouldn’t get the same sense of unrequited love that Charlie Brown so skilfully emits.

My point is that if you’re planning on two characters ending up together, you need to take a hint from Emma and stop meddling you need to actually show that the characters would be marginally attracted to one another.  The stupidest and most inept thing you could do when trying to write out a relationship is to have the main character– and by extension, the reader– completely ignore the love interest.  When you spring it on them at the end, they will not like it as much as if you built it up after time.  People like to root for different people to end up together.  If they don’t get that chance, they don’t get the same feeling of satisfaction when that actually happens.  Basically what you’re doing when you say that extra word “pretty” or “handsome” is this: you’re just showing that your main character is capable of admiration.

Of course, this is for first impressions only.  If you’re planning on making your character fall in love based on the second character’s ability to roll pretzels, by all means ignore me.

Leave a comment


  1. Charley R

     /  August 4, 2012

    Haha, good point here! I have massive trouble in writing romantic relationships (not in the least because I’ve never been in one, and thus have no experience to draw on) but, mostly, for the reasons you list there. Half the time I forget a given character is supposed to be a love interest and end up keeping them so far from the other half that the whole thing comes out completely ridiculous. You really have to plan for these things in advance to get all the run-up, the bonding, the realism . . . bah. Relationships are more trouble than they’re worth in literature xD

    • Nah, just look at a boy and a girl and say “Ooh, they could kiss!” Then work up to it. Then, of course, stick in another boy and another girl and switch things around. Make everyone mad.

      This has been Ready Romances, season one.

      • Charley R

         /  August 5, 2012

        Gyah, I don’t like microwave instant romances though! They grate on me so much in books I read that I don’t want to subject my readers to them . . . and then there’s my brain playing ALL SORTS OF HAVOC with the characters I have and saying completely illogical sets of people should get together.

        Brain . . . what did I do to you?

      • Yeah, maybe you’re better off just doing non-human novels with alien life-forms.

        How long has it been since you’ve seen it?

      • Charley R

         /  August 5, 2012

        Quite a long time . . . must confess . . .

      • Well, no wonder you try to hug me so much.

      • Charley R

         /  August 10, 2012

        Ehehehehehehehe. What can I say 😛

      • What did I say? I had completely forgotten what I had said. But I suppose insanity can pass as a reason– the first few times.

  2. Oh, Jane Austen references… And I agree; there is no attraction without attraction. Personally, I don’t like off-screen in books. I much prefer dramatic irony (e.g. Pride and Prejudice, or Lizzie Bennet Eats Crow).

  3. If people fall in love over pretzel rolling skills than I’m SET. I can roll pretzels like nobody’s business.

  4. The guest post is finished! (phew) Now it is a matter of getting it to you…hmm…

    • Okay… The options are email or NaNoMail, which you claim not to have. Other options include, but are not limited to, you putting your post in a Word document and saving it as a PDF, then embedding that secretively in a post somewhere. Pick what works.

  5. Nice post. That’s an issue I’m fighting with in my stuff. It’s so easy to have everything nicely worked out in your head and have none of it actually make it into the story.

    • Exactly. It’s such a great temptation to just say that everything happened as it did in my head. Why can’t readers all just read my mind?

      Thanks for dropping by!

  6. DLiz

     /  August 12, 2012

    I totally get this post. I am writing a story that has a lot of romance and lately I have been going over it and finding that I have been doing that instant romance in it. Argh! So much rewriting!

    • What really irks me is how this thing can escape published writers, so if you’re realizing this now, it’s better for you.

      • DLiz

         /  August 13, 2012

        Oh yeah. I have no idea how other people dont notice how repeated and boring the romance gets.

      • Indeed. But there really aren’t many variations on two people falling in love.

  7. *throws pretzels at Nadya, because she wants to be Verun’s love interest* Yah, gerroutofit! You are not going to get with him at any point of the book, you nut-case!
    …. -_- Sometimes I really hate Nadya.

  8. This reminds me of the one time that I was writing in first-person, and I made a second character crush on the narrator…without her ever noticing. And yet, if the reader paid enough attention, they could maybe pick out this fact.

    I was so proud of that accomplishment…


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